On Being a Beginner Again

Last night I painted.Paintingsupplies

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about not making having time to paint.

And finally, last night, I got to it.

This morning, I realized one of the reasons, besides the pure fun of it, that painting is so good for me.  It is because I am approaching it with a beginner's mind.  That would be because I am a beginner.  There is something both terrifying and wonderful about doing something you don't have the vaguest clue how to do.  To engage in an activity as a beginner is to see the world anew.  And of course, many spiritual traditions, most notably Zen Buddhism, encourage approaching life with this mindset.

But I have been writing for so long it is nearly impossible for me to look at writing with fresh eyes.  I can look at each project with new eyes, and I can switch from fiction to non-fiction and back again to keep things lively.  But I write so much and so often that it is difficult to remember the terror of facing the blank page and not knowing what to do.

Because last night I faced a blank canvas and I didn't know what to do.

It was paralyzing at first.  And I turned to my usual comforts–words. I looked through the books on painting I'd gotten for Christmas, ignoring the images in favor of reading the text.  Not finding exact, step-by-step instructions for how to begin, which was what I was seeking, I moved on, to the pamphlet that came with the acrylics.  Um, not much of use there, either.

Finally there was nothing to do but just begin.  So I squirted some paint on the little round plastic palette and and started covering one of the canvases.  (You can see in the photo above that I started on very small canvases.) And it was wonderful.  Once I had the whole thing covered in blue, I experimented with adding dabs of red.  And then I decided that what I really wanted to paint was a flower.  And so I worked on that for the rest of the night.

And I was happy.  Because it was fun.  And it didn't matter what the end result looked like.  It didn't matter that I'm not an accomplished painter (you can see proof of that in the photo above).  What mattered was the process and the joy I felt in doing it.  What mattered was that even though I'm not good now, I can see that I'll only continue to improve.

So here's what I've gleaned from my first experience with painting.

1. Tools for the Journey–There are none.  You just have to jump in.  You just have to do it.  You just have to pick up the brush and dip it in the paint, or put your hands to the keyboard and begin writing.  That really is all that is important.

2.  Process trumps Product–I struggle with this.  Any professional writer does.  The trick is to create good work that will hold up in the marketplace while still allowing yourself to get lost in the flow.  But painting reminds me that ultimately it is all about the process.

3.   You Can Always Improve–And you will if you continue to practice painting or writing or any creative project.  The one thing I loved about my son playing video games as a boy was that it taught him he could improve his skills if he just kept at it.

4. It is Worth It–It's worth it to find the time, to carry the card table up from the basement, to get organized, to take the first flying leap onto the canvas.  Because painting is fun, and transporting, and absorbing, just like writing. 

5.  Start Small–Note the very small canvases above.  Take one little scene from your writing at a time, or focus on one sentence.  Then write another, and another…

So now I'm going to take these insights and apply them to writing.  I'm going to attempt to be a beginner again, every time I return to the page.  I think it is another path to writing abundance.

How about you?  Any experiences with being a beginner?

**And remember, if you struggle so much with getting words on the page that you need help, I offer writing coaching and mentoring.  Just email me–the address is at the top of the page.

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7 Comments on "On Being a Beginner Again"

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Jacki
Guest
I really loved this. And I mean “really” in the way a breath of fresh air is so invigorating after staying indoors for too long. I haven’t painted in over three years, but I always remember that free feeling of spreading paint all over a canvas. I am so drawn to creating abstract paintings because paint is such a flexible medium, and because you can get your hands dirty and wear clothes that can be stained. There is not one bad memory I have of painting. The way you applied it to your work as a writer was something I… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Thanks, Jacki. It took me forever to get the nerve to play with the paints but I had so much fun I hope it won’t take me so long to get back to it. Such a nice contrast to writing…

Patty - Why Not Start Now?
Guest

Hi Charlotte – Fun, process, joy, no worry about end result – wonderful. Sounds like that purposeless play I’ve been experimenting with, with no agenda. Isn’t it amazing? I like how you tie it back to writing, how trying new fun, things helps us to come back to being a beginner in our work.

Derek
Guest
Derek
A very Zen-like post today Charlotte that has triggered a stream of thoughts that I can hardly hold on to, so I hope this makes some sort sense – well as best sense as Zen can make! When I began sitting zazen (Zen meditation) about 30 years ago, I was looking for something I should be doing, but as the years went by, my experiences of Zen reminded me that creation is an energy that just flows through me and it at is most powerful when I am one with the activity. Therefore, zazen creates through the energy of meditation… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest
Patty–yes, it felt exactly like that purposeless play you write so well about. And you bring up an excellent point–much, if not all, of my writing is for a very specific purpose. So having a creative outlet where I can just let go and enjoy feels wonderful. Derek, I had a feeling you’d like this post! I actually thought about you as I wrote it, and as always, I love that you surprise me with your thoughts on Zen and creativity. The doing vs. being dichotomy is something we struggle with so much in the west, feeling we’re not pulling… Read more »
Derek
Guest
Derek

Yes Charlotte, I think we tend to feel a form of guilt if we are doing (enough). I am beginning to get past that more and more these days. Sitting in zazen is so much different. Sitting and being is not quite as passive as it sounds. 🙂

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Derek, I need to learn that being is not passive!

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